Saturday, 6 July 2013

A new release from BIS gives an opportunity to hear less well known Wagner and a really fine performance of the Wesendonck Lieder

The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon at Leipzig, Saxony. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle marked the culmination of the campaign of 1813 and involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

The battle was the most dramatic event in Leipzig’s seven hundred-year history. After two days of fighting, Napoleon moved his troops into the city. The streets became filled with the dead and wounded with thousands dying in the plague that followed. One of the victims of the plague was a police clerk, Friedrich Wagner.

On 22nd May 1813, six months after the death of Friedrich Wagner, his son was born on the second floor of No. 3 the Bruhl, known as House of the Red and White Lion, in Leipzig. He was baptised Wilhelm Richard Wagner.

Two hundred years later, as his birth is celebrated, there are numerous releases of recordings, from complete sets of his operas to single discs such as a new release from BIS Records .

Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra perform the original 1841 version of the Overture to Der Fliegende Holländer together with the final version from 1860. These two versions frame Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder sung by the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme , who is particularly known for her Wagnerian operatic roles and sang the Wesendonck-Lieder at the 2010 Salzburg International Festival.

Also on this disc is Wagner’s own transcription for violin and orchestra of the last of the Wesendonck-Lieder, Träume together with the Siegfried-Idyll and Prelude to Die Mestersingers von Nürnberg

BIS 2022
This new release is another in the Open Door series of recordings of romantic symphonic music that Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra are making for BIS.

The 1841 original version of Wagner’s Overture to ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ receives a nicely taut performance that has a directness that brings out much of Wagner’s early thoughts.

After making her debut as Cherubino in Italy, the Swedish soprano Nina Stemme , has appeared at opera houses including Stockholm, Vienna State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Geneva, Zürich, Teatro San Carlo Naples, Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Metropolitan Opera New York, San Francisco Opera as well as at the festivals of Bayreuth, Salzburg, Savonlinna, Glyndebourne and Bregenz.

Whilst in no way confined to Wagnerian roles her repertoire includes Eva (Die Mestersingers von Nürnberg), Elisabeth (Tannhäuser), Elsa (Lohengrin), Senta (Der Fliegende Holländer), Sieglinde (Die Walküre), and her outstanding first Isolde (Tristan und Isolde) at Glyndebourne Festival Opera which has now been issued on DVD. She has also sung Isolde in EMI’s famous recording of Tristan und Isolde with Placido Domingo and with great success at Bayreuth Festival, Zurich Opera and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Further highlights were her phenomenal Sieglinde and Brünnhilde (Siegfried) in the new Ring cycle at Vienna State Opera and a sensational Brünnhilde (Die Walküre). She has sung most recently in Tannhäuser at Opera Bastille Paris, and Brünnhilde (Götterdämmerung) in the new Ring at Munich State Opera.

Nina Stemme’s Wagner credentials are, therefore, without doubt.

In the opening Der Engel (The Angel) of Wesendonck – Lieder (1857/58) the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provide a lovely opening. When Nina Stemme enters she is at once powerfully idiomatic, showing her wonderful ability to extract the exact emotion from the text. With Stehe still (Stand still) she brings a real Wagnerian voice to this tempestuous song. She has power and fullness to her voice with wonderful control of dynamics. Stemme excels herself in Im Treibhaus (In the Hothouse) bringing such poetry and sensitivity to this wonderful song in a lovely performance. She gets terrific support from Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Schmerzen (Sorrows) gets a terrifically sweeping opening before Stemme enters in full voice, magnificent, soaring over the orchestra. There is some fine control of voice in Träume (Dreams), rising to some exquisite moments.

It is fascinating to hear the final, 1860, version of the Overture to ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ which opens with a grand sweep from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard in a performance and version that shows more sophistication. There is fine tautness again from this fine chamber orchestra. Occasionally Dausgaard does seem to hold back a little too much but when he lets go the effect is terrific.

Siegried - Idyll (1870) is exquisitely played with just the right amount of free flowing forward momentum. There are many fine details in this carefully prepared performance with some lovely woodwind contributions. At times the tempo is quite quick, adding to the drama and, as the music heads toward the coda there is a satisfying feel of completion.

With Träume (No.5 of Wesendonck – Lieder) – version for violin and orchestra (1858) we have an opportunity to hear Wagner’s own arrangement of this song beautifully played by Katarina Andreasson. This novelty, nevertheless, reduces this lovely song to more of an encore or, as Sir Thomas Beecham would have it, a lollipop. Shorn of the words and vocal texture there is something missing.

Dausgaard doesn’t hang around in the opening of the Prelude to ‘Die Meistersingers von Nurnberg’ (1862). In this brisk performance, the smaller sound of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra may lack the weight of a larger body but what superb clarity there is. This is a really nicely paced performance.

Overall this is a fine release with an opportunity to hear less known Wagner as well as a really fine performance of the Wesendonck Lieder. There is an exceptionally clear and fine recording as well as excellent booklet notes and full texts in German and English. 

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